By Guy Rheuark
The Light Frigate is the best warship in Blood & Plunder. I have seen it out gun smaller vessels, and out maneuver larger ones. I plan to describe why this ship is effective as a warship, and outline the pitfalls that you might have building a list for it.
First though, let’s look at what a Light Frigate is, from Firelock Games:
“Light Frigate: These light warships were made for combat and Commonly used by the Guarda Costas and pirate hunters. Light Frigates are robust vessels which are designed to mimic their larger counterparts while keeping up with the smaller ships they pursued.”
The Light Frigate, also called the Frigate in marketing, was the largest ship available when the game was first released. In early games against smaller ships, the Light Frigate could either over take them easily to board, or run away the whole game, because nothing else moved 5”. Nowadays, though speed alone does not dictate the flow of a match, the Light Frigate has enough unique traits to still make it relevant in any game.
One of the Light Frigates most stand out features is that it’s hull fortitude starts at 5. The only other ship currently with a fortitude 5 is the Galleon. While a fortitude of 5 versus 4 does not sound like a huge difference, during game play this can not be further from the truth. The Light Frigate also has hull integrity of 6, meaning that it has to take 24 hits before it’s fortitude is reduced to one.
Speed and Maneuverability
As mentioned before, the Light Frigate moves 5”, making it one of the fastest ships in the game, along with the Sloop of War, the Corvette, and the Piragua. The ship also has three sail setting between 5” and 0”; 4”, 3”, 2”. Like usual, I treat these sail settings either as a barrier between my ship and stopping, or to deal with weather events. With changing your sail settings being dedicated action, the momentary strategic advantage you might have of only moving 4” or 3” is paid for by being less able to react later in the game. The Light Frigate also has staysails, a feature that’s always nice to have. The ability to buy sweeps is a little puzzling, as Sweeps 2 is pretty bad, but might be fun for a scenario based on a river battle or maneuvering in a packed harbor.
The Light Frigate gets to turn 3”, like most square rigged ships, and its windward value is -2”. Combined this allows the ship to make very tight turns into the wind. Don’t be afraid to set up a decisive tack or box haul to bring your unused larboard or starboard guns to bear, as long as you have a unit to do the maneuver.
Let’s look at each deck on this ship and the options it gives:
Focsle or Foredeck
This deck can carry up to 18 models. It has mounts for two swivel guns, and two cannon emplacements. It also has a mast you can give a fighting top to. The forward deck on most ships is the first deck that makes contact with the enemy, and so you want to plan accordingly if you are manning the swivels and gun port. It is perfectly acceptable to ignore the swivels and cannon port to instead fill the deck with muskets, or strategically leave it bare, as no one can die if a cannon hits an empty deck.
The Main Deck
Holding an astounding 28 models, with medium guns (32 without) the main deck will be where you will want to put the bulk of your force, along with having a mast you can put a fighting top on, to give you space for 4 more models. This deck has six gun ports, making it the main source of firepower in a gunship list. The main deck is also a key place for any characters you purchase, as even a short command range of 3” can reach every other deck. All commanders have a 4” command range, so you can put them on other decks without worrying about command range, though most commanders will be put on this deck anyways, because it can hold the most models.
Poop Deck or Aft Deck
This deck can hold 21 models. It has mounts for two swivels and six cannon ports, two of which are rear facing chasers. This is the only deck you are penalized for not having a unit on, so remember that you have to crew this deck during list building. I continue to have mixed results with rear facing chasers. The dream scenario for them is that you fire your starboard or larboard guns, wear to bring your chasers into line, then continue to roll the ship to bring a fresh set of guns to bear. I have seen this attempted and attempted it multiple times with the Light Frigate, only to have something go wrong, as most experienced opponents can see the set up coming.
What about the Merchant Frigate?
The Merchant Frigate is an alternative to the Light Frigate that has all but one of the Light Frigate abilities for 17 points, 4 less than the Light Frigate. Those 4 points can be used to buy a single swivel gun, or one sailor of your nationality. You could use it to buy two fighting tops, or make one in eight sailors a grenadier. What it gives up for 4 points is a point of hull fortitude. You could buy a lot of things for 4 points, but nothing is as valuable as that point of fortitude. In the Blood & Plunder meta before the No Peace Beyond The Line Errata, when gunships lists were less cost effective, this might of been a worthy exchange. These days, if your playing a 200 point or more sea game, your opponent will bring cannons unless they are playing a native faction.
Uses for the Light Frigate and list building
This ship is most useful in sea games of 300 points or more, usually as your only ship, or a fleets center piece. In games of 200 points or less, you need to pay attention to some common list building pitfalls when outfitting a Light Frigate
Pitfall 1: Too many guns
Fully arming this ship costs 86 points. That is the price for 14 medium cannons and 4 swivels. Just because a deck can have guns on it, doesn’t mean it has to. In a 150 or 200 point game, it’s ok to only fill up the main deck with 6 medium cannons for 30 points, and buy only swivels for the other decks. This would cost 46 points and give you the firepower comparable to a sloop, but with a stronger hull. It’s also OK to only put four light or medium guns on the main deck.
Pitfall 2: Undermanning a deck
With how expensive it can be to arm the ship, less points are left for the crew. If you find yourself only putting 4-6 models on the fore deck, consider leaving it empty instead. A small group of isolated models, especially ones meant to crew expensive guns, is a wonderful target for your opponent. Because of the way fatigue routes a unit, smaller units are very susceptible to a quick death spiral of extreme casualties, multiple failed resolve checks, and then routing because fatigue is double model count. While an empty deck looks and feels strange, it is perfectly fine in smaller games, and especially in a ship with 5” speed.
Pitfall 3: Lack of planning
When building your list, decide how you are going to try to win. Muskets and swivel guns are equally effective throughout the game, while cannons get more effective the more hits you land. Boarding and melee is extremely deadly to both sides but can quickly win you the game. Choose one of these ways of fighting and build your list around it. It’s OK to include a sprinkling of other tactics in your list. Musket and swivel gun fire are a great way to keep pressure with a cannon list. Boarding parties can be light cannon crew that fires grapeshot onto a deck before grappling. Also plan out how your going to sail and the distance you want to maintain. Do you want to claim the weather gauge as soon as possible? Do you plan to keep your distance and engage in long range barrages? Don’t let your opponent control how your ship moves.
Here are some sample lists I made:
Without question the Light Frigate has defined the Blood & Plunder meta since the beginning. Even if you do not plan to own one, knowing what it is capable of doing is important. It is also still a handsome ship. The Light Frigate was the first Firelock Games ship I bought, and I intend to buy another in the future to see how far my painting techniques have improved.